Written, produced and directed by Neill Blomkamp, who brought us ‘District 9’ and ‘Elysium,’ ‘Chappie’ carried high hopes. However, this promising movie falls woefully short.
Set in the very near future, Johannesburg is patrolled by robot policeman called Scouts. The Scouts are built by weapons company Transvaal, headed by Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver), and were developed by programmer and all-round boffin Deon (Dev Patel). When Deon develops what he believes to be a true Artificial Intelligence, he asks Bradley to let him test it on a Scout. She says no, so Deon does it anyway, on a damaged Scout about to be recycled. Complicating this is gansta Ninja and his crew of Yolandi (Yo-Landi Visser) and Amerika, who kidnap Deon because they want control of the Scouts. There’s no way this will work, so Deon trades them the broken Scout, promising that if they let him install the AI and train him, they can use him as protection. And so is born Chappie (Sharlto Copely). When Deon’s rival at Transvaal, Vincent (Hugh Jackman) discovers what Deon has created, it sets in motion a chain of events that threatens to tear the city apart.
Sounds okay, right? Could have been brilliant, but the narrative loses itself in all the machinations of the competing agendas of the various characters. There were so very many aspects of this film that shone with blinding potential, but were swept away by the ridiculous and contrived violence-ridden plot-monster of gangs and guns. Issues like parenting and class stereotypes, gender identity, equality, the pilot vs drone debate, and the ethical implications of AI were mentioned and then ignored. At times the film attempts to portray a life lesson or two, but these are so clumsily handed that they’re either kitsch or barely noticeable. When a film is unintentionally funny for all the wrong reasons, it’s never a good sign.
This film seemed to have a love/hate relationship with its audience, at times spoon-feeding us, and at others expecting us to process the most fleeting of subtleties. Dialogue alternated between rudimentary to ridiculous, giving the performers very little to work with. Not even actors of the calibre of Weaver and Jackman could save their characters from the purgatory the writing threw them in. Patel does his best too, but suffers the same fate. It begs the question as to why names such as these signed on to a film as inadequate as this. Patel, Weaver and Jackman are wasted, with the majority of the screen-time filled with Ninja and Yolandi, whose performances were at about the level of a school play.
This film seemed to have a love/hate relationship with its audience, at times spoon-feeding us, and at others expecting us to process the most fleeting of subtleties.
There is one decent thing about this film, and that was the quality of the production of the robot Chappie. The motion capture and effects to create Chappie were top-notch, giving him entirely accurate body language and mannerisms. I couldn’t fault the technical brilliance in that respect.
The film ignored science, using it only to further the “plot”; laws of nature were pretty much thrown out the window. I could write pages and pages on the stupidity of the execution of a promising premise, but frankly, that would be wasting everyone’s time.
Suffice it to say, I was very disappointed with ‘Chappie’, but all you really need to know is whether you should spend your hard-earned dosh seeing it at the cinema. The answer in this case is a resounding no.